Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Baking, Bournemouth and Blueberries: SEASIDE AND CAKE

When I fully embraced and accepted my food obsession I discovered food magazines.  Glossy spreads of food porn.  Pretty good.  Flicking through, mentally noting which recipes, gadgets and tips I want to try.  Promptly forgetting as soon as I finished the article.  

I met a mate after work on Thursday for a gloriously dirty-sexy burger dinner at Meat Liquor and then Alex and I took advantage of a half-off hotel offer, spending Friday and Saturday at the seaside.  Beachside donuts, ice-creams, fish chips and a surprisingly delicious hotel dinner meant that while I was well-fed, my fingers were itching after being away from the kitchen three dinners in a row.  The food magazine I read on the way home inspired the next days furious catch-up-cooking.

Baking requires a style of cooking that doesn’t come naturally to me.  You need to be precise, neat and methodical: everything I’m not.  Traditional baking seems to be experiencing a renaissance at the moment and even crap homemade cakes taste infinitely better than super-market and you feel dead proud showing off even a sinking sponge to anyone who cares.

It’s been a steady aim of mine for the past year to improve my baking skills.  Like any aspect of cooking, practice makes perfect: you need few goes to help you get a feel for the chemistry of the ingredients and the quirks of your oven.  I chose this blueberry cake cause one, it included blueberries, my new favourite fruit, and two, sour cream.  Everything that includes sour cream is amazing.

 The cake was lighter than I expected, sweet yet fresh from the fruit.  For something airy, it was still rich, though this could be because I accidently added the whole sour cream amount to the cake mixture rather than the four tablespoons indicated.  Alex thinks I should sandwich the cream and cream cheese frosting both within two sponge layers and on top, rather than just on the top, though I quite like the simplicity of it as it is.  Whatever I do next, as it was, it was pretty damn moreish.

 Blueberry Sour Cream Cake (barely adapted from Good Food Magazine, April 2012)

175 g soft butter
175 g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
142 ml soured cream
400 g blueberries (about two punnets)
200 g tub of soft cheese (Philadelphia?)
100 ml sour cream
100 g icing sugar

1)    Heat the oven to 180 C, butter a 23 cm loose based/spring-form cake tin.
2)    Put butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract  and sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.  Beat for 2-3 mins hard until lighter in colour and well mixed.
3)    Beat in the cream (all of it if you’re me or 4 table spoons if you're Good Food).
4)    Stir in half the blueberries with large spoon – don’t smash them up, do it carefully.
5)    Tip the mixture into the tin (do it closely from the bowl so as not to knock air out of the mixture).  Bake for 40 mins.  (Good Food said 50 but clearly my oven was hotter).  Resist urge to check before then – opening and shutting the oven too much can cause the sponge to sink.  It will be ready when you press it lightly and it feels springy and bouncing back when pressed.
6)    Cool for 10 mins in the tin, then take out and cool completely on a rack before putting on the icing and remaining blueberries.
7)    ICING – literally just beat the remaining sour-cream (or another 100 ml if me) with the cream cheese and sugar then spread lightly on the top of the cooled cake and top with the other punnet of blueberries.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Failsafe Food: Chorizo and Borough Market Pasta

Anyone who cooks a lot, even people who rarely make dinner, have failsafe recipes they turn to time and time again.  These recipes have usually evolved over time and balance affordable, available, simple, with your own personal tastes.  Sometimes these dishes are crowd-pleasers, sometimes they’re a simple sandwich or stuff-on-a-plate.   Could be a pimped up cheese on toast, or a spaghetti Bolognese.  Often it’s a variation on something you had as a kid or discovered at uni. 
 My failsafes are pastas.  I love pasta.  Really really love pasta, in all its weird and wonderful shapes and sizes.  When I was little my mum asked my brother and I what our favorite meal was, and if we wanted it on Christmas day instead of The Lunch. My brother wanted porridge and I wanted ‘Tuna-Pasta-Pesto’.  This was my mum’s family failsafe comprising of whole-meal fusilli pasta, red and green peppers, onions, mushrooms, canned tuna and jarred pesto.  We probably ate this at least twice a week so its testimony to my mum it was my choice above all else for Christmas dinner. 
Brindisa’s amazing chorizo sandwich served at their stall in Borough market is a joyous hit of simple, vibrant flavours.  Smokey, salty chorizo, crispy and succulent with pork fat balanced by the sweet vinegar of the red pepper and the bitter rocket leaves.  Alex and I recreated this sandwich at home with some heftily priced cooking chorizo from Planet Organic, jarred roasted red peppers, rocket and a baguette.  Beautiful.

 Given we love this sandwich so much, and I love pasta so much, we got to thinking of converting the sandwich into a pasta dish.  I couldn’t resist adding a few extra ingredients and I’d spotted some pennoni (giant penne) to add to my pasta shape collection, so this was the starch of choice. 

The chorizo releases a gorgeous, deep amber-coloured oil as it fries, and this, when mingled with the lightly cooked red peppers and cherry tomatoes gives the pasta a lovely orange tint. The sandwich and the pasta are different, but because the core flavours work so well, both taste great.  The pictures are of my second batch, and I’d forgotten to buy red peppers.  Although this still tasted good, something was missing – the peppers are essential. 

A bit of a fancy failsafe, but still simple and its so colourful, flavourful and generally happy its definitely found its way into my quick-dinner repertoire.

Borough Market Pasta

Enough pennoni (or penne) for 2 people
3 raw chorizo sausages chopped into 1cm thick discs
2 roasted red peppers (from a jar) sliced lengthways
1 1/2 handful of cherry tomatoes halved
2 cloves of garlic crushed
Splash of white wine.
5 tinned anchovies finely chopped
handful of sliced black olives
1 green chilli finely chopped
bag of rocket
olive oil

1) Heat a deep frying pan/wok (big enough to hold all ingredients) on high
2) get a pan of boiling, salted water ready and add the pennoni.
3) Start frying the chorizo - avoid turning too much cause you want it to get crispy. Once its crispy and has released its red oil, removed from the pan. If there is excess oil (you still need quite a lot though) tip into a bowl and reserve.   Add the splash of white wine and while it bubbles and reduces scrape all the lovely burney bits on the base of the pan.
4) Turn the heat down to medium, add the anchovies, sliced red peppers, chilli and garlic. Add 1 handful of the tomatoes and the cooked chorizo and keep stirring.
5) Check pasta to see how done. If it is, drain but keep the cooking water. If not, leave it for a bit longer but make sure the chorizo mixture doesn’t burn.
6) Add the drained pasta to the chorizo dish and stir to coat with the sauce. If it looks a bit dry add a splash of pasta cooking water. You want the pasta to be covered in a tinted red oily sauce - so if necessary add some of the reserved chorizo oil, sliced black olives and last handful of halved cherry tomatoes.
7) Turn heat off. Add the rocket in handfuls, stirring well till it wilts and is mixed in. taste for seasoning.